High Medical Expenses for Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors had higher annual medical expenses and greater productivity issues

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Surviving cancer involves more than just physical health. A new study explored the financial burden often experienced by these survivors.

A new study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at the financial experiences of cancer survivors in the US from 2008 to 2011.

The study found that cancer survivors spent several thousand dollars more a year on medical expenses than those without a cancer history.

"Seek assistance if you have questions about your medical expenses or insurance options."

According to the authors of this study, led by Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, the number of cancer survivors in the US has grown, creating a large population with unique concerns, including the long-term monitoring of their health.

"These survivors also face economic challenges, including limitations in work and daily activities, obtaining health insurance coverage and accessing health care, and increasing medical care costs," explained Dr. Ekwueme and team.

To estimate the medical costs and costs from lost work time that these cancer survivors face each year, the researchers used data from the 2008–2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). This data came from over 86,000 participants without a history of cancer and over 6,700 cancer survivors. More specific data was provided by another 1,202 cancer survivors.

Dr. Ekwueme and team found that during the period studied, male cancer survivors spent an average of $8,091 a year on medical expenses, compared with the $3,904 spent by men without a history of cancer. For female cancer survivors, average annual medical expenses were $8,412, versus the $5,119 spent by women who had never had cancer.

The researchers also examined costs associated with productivity loss, or money lost due to time spent away from work for health issues. For male cancer survivors, these costs amounted to an average of $3,719 a year, compared with $2,260 for men who had never had cancer. For women, the average productivity loss a year was $4,033 for cancer survivors, compared with $2,703 in women without a cancer history.

Additionally, 31.6 percent of all cancer survivors reported that they experienced issues performing daily activities beyond work, and 11.6 percent reported that they had trouble with mental tasks tied to daily activities.

"Among cancer survivors who were employed at any time since diagnosis, cancer and its treatment interfered with physical tasks (25 percent) and mental tasks (14 percent) required by the job, with nearly 25 percent of cancer survivors feeling less productive at work," reported Dr. Ekwueme and team.

It is important to note that the sample size of cancer survivors in this study was relatively small, and that the data were self-reported. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and explore the financial differences between different forms of cancer.

"The economic data presented in this report investigating the economic consequences of surviving cancer highlight the need to develop comprehensive intervention programs to improve the quality of the cancer survivorship experience and decrease the economic burden of cancer survivorship in the United States," Dr. Ekwueme and team concluded.

This study was published June 12 in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
June 12, 2014
Last Updated:
June 13, 2014